They say, in the mountains, there is no death. That in the wind one hears lost wanderer’s whispers. Missives from beyond. They say, in new-fallen snow, one can track the damned’s foot-falls, arcing off the trail and into the trees. They say to lose the path is to lose oneself, that Winter claims all those who test her. All who enter her midst without the appropriate reverence, or a respectful degree of fear. They say her shadows hide monsters. Creatures of terrible grace, of frightful beauty. They prey on poor fools who would challenge her primacy.
It was into such a winter, on such a mountain and during such a furious snowstorm that our hero, his name lost to time, trudged his way through accruing snow. Dreams of crossing over the range and into a distant village were his only hearth. He hoped that he might leave his memories of loss behind. One traced the grief’s on his marked face, in thinly pursed lips and their grim countenance. The crinkles belonging to a much older man lingered in the corners of his eyes, sad eyes the color of dead oak. His dark brown skin, burned black and blue by the cold, was dry and cracked. Skin belonging to one who took little time for himself.
He breathed and rubbed his hands together. Protected though they were by thickly woolen mittens, the howling wind penetrated still, chilling them to the bone. He stopped, regarding the swirling tempest which obscured the heavens.
Why? He wondered at our world’s silent God. Why am I so tested?
First came his parents’ deaths, mother, then heartbroken father, over the course of a couple months. Then in his grief, illness befell him, whooping coughs and racking chest pains, borne to him in depression’s depths. Then at last the desertion of his cherished beloved, who found his life’s burdens too odious to help him bear.
“I’m just not strong enough.” She told him then, tears leaking from her like the tragedies were hers, the losses hers. “You deserve someone who can care for you.”
“I thought I’d already found her,” He whispered at her receding backside as she disappeared into history, fleeing the Biblical rage that beset him.
And so, trapped in sadness’ mire, he grasped at the smallest sliver of hope thrown his way. A job offer cabled from a distant township. One requiring him to leave all he knew behind. Seeing all he knew then was loss and betrayal, it was a price that suited him fine. After a train, a carriage, and helpful direction from the stewardess of a local inn, who provided him with provisions and a map and some friendly advice and close… companionship, he was off into the woods and wild.
“Stay a while,” He remembered her cooing, as he belted up his boots and layers and made ready to travel under a cloudy sky, heavy with ill-omen and, as of yet, unfallen snow. “Wait out the cold months in a warm bed. It’s dangerous to travel thus this time of year.”
“No,” He replied more brusquely than he meant to. “This is something that I must do.”
He turned back to her and smiled on his way out the door, a hollow grimace. “Besides, what’s a little winter in the face my suffering? If Death wished to claim me, surely she would have by now.”
And with that, he marched from the bosom of life into the cold’s deathly loins.
How he regretted those words now, in a snowstorm’s grasp. Had her company been so unpleasant that this trip couldn’t wait another few weeks? Was his pain so great that it must be born alone, flagellated from his soul by icy gales?
A rough hand scratched across his face, though with how numb he felt only by seeing it attached to his arm could he tell it was his. This disembodied limb came away with icicles. Sweat from his climb’s exertion froze as soon as it fled his pores and then clung to him, giving his gaunt face a raw, frigid mask. He glanced around, trying to regain his bearings in the dark. Night fell faster than expected in the mountains. Skeletal trees surrounding him looked much the same as the ones he had hiked though for the past dozen hours. The recumbent branches of oak and pine and birch nigh indistinguishable when garbed in snow. He tried to remember the helpful innkeeper’s words:
…Keep moving. Up and north and up, until you reach the peak, and then down and down. Keep moving. Don’t let the freeze or the night stop you. And whatever you do.
Don’t get lost…
Well here he was, well and truly lost. Unable in the snow to tell where was north, barely able to tell up from down from side to side. But not even then did he feel panicked. If he died, well, then it was the culmination of a tragic path life forced him down. No great surprise, no big loss.
Yet, he did not lie down and die. He kept moving, inching along in the direction burning calves told him was upward. Light dimmed even further, and he stood in a totality of darkness he might have thought impossible were he not in its midst. Into that darkness echoed a further impossibility. A voice, a voice warm and familiar, whispering his name. Though that name is lost, for narrative’s sake, let’s say it called-
He paused. I must be going mad with cold. That does happen to people up here, they say. And so reassured, he continued walking.
There it was again. Will tried to ascertain from whence the voice came, but it was directionless. It emanated from the shadow all around him, from the air, from each individual flake of snow.
Ah, now that had direction. He turned to his left, the unmistakable source lay that way. How he yearned to follow her, for it was certainly a her, voice. In spite of the receding warnings of his briefly met lover, he desired little else than to follow-
Warnings forgotten. He left what little of the path he could see, considerations to Don’t get lost left behind with it, and wandered out into the total darkness of the trees, where snow and branches further obscured the already lost starlight. Each step he took from the path froze in the ice and snow, the farther he got, the further his soul was chilled, yet also seared, by the call of-
He came to the mountain’s face, in it a slit, the slightest of openings marked by no map, mentioned in no guidance or advice given by his stewardess, or carriage driver or train engineer, who all warned him of Winter’s tricks when his intended destination. Yet he gamboled on, sliding into the crevasse. A tight, slick opening in the mountain, unobscured by snow as if it had been cut afresh just for him.
The voice beckoned, bouncing off caves walls, the echoes of a more cavernous space. He stumbled over rock, and through stream as he wandered deeper into the cave. Down path after path. When several corridors opened to him, always came the call, floating with certainty from the passageway whoever spoke meant him to travel. Each time growing a little louder, more alluring, increasing its demand and its pull on his heart. There was a faint light, a distant source of brilliance that grew brighter the closer he drew. Everything in him burned, whether from frostbite or a sudden wellspring of lust he cared little. That didn’t matter, his whole being focused on locating the vixen that beckoned him onward… onward…
Eventually the path opened up into a vast cavern. The source of the echo. Wherein he found the source of the light and the mysterious call. A still pond, glowing with preternatural luminescence, it rippled only with his name.
Now he heard the voice’s submerged quality, as if she called to him from within a great gulf. And he knew: she meant him to enter. He step towards the pool. His body’s protestations against the cold merely slowed him. Stop! It seemed to scream. You are dying. He ignored it in his madness, no longer questioning what called him forth or why, or how water locked in a subzero grotto in the clutches of winter remained unfrozen. Only forward, only moving forward mattered. Into… into the water he went.
Even in his reverie, he gasped at the cold. The shock of it almost shook him from his trance, but he could see the form of the emanating light, and it coalesced into a very alluring form indeed. Feminine curves, and the trace of a distant smile. And so he plunged. The closer he got, the more he could see of what drew him here. A woman. Her open arms, begging to be embraced, her libidinous smile, her perfect teeth. Was this a façade? Was that the hint of a smirk on her lips? Did her incisors gleam like blades? Were her eyes soulless black coals set in deep in an ice-blue face on a body wrapped in ice-blue skin? These questions, and their answers (Yes! Yes!) were irrelevant. He reached out to her, opened his mouth as if to speak, forgetting that he sunk in water like a stone.
My darling… my darl- He thought as he drowned.
And as the world faded, he felt her grip him like a vise. And suddenly the cold was forgotten, suddenly the light pulsed through him. Still he sank, but he no longer drowned. He, and his beloved, hugged. He knew he had reached his destination.
Finally, he was home.
They embraced. Two ice-blue figures, skin smooth as diamonds. Two figures, with deep-set eyes, black as coals. As the light in the pool slowly faded, its purpose done, its blissful prey caught, they both disappeared from view.